There are hardly words to describe it. It comes in a sound, in a wave of emotion. It carries the sensation of deep, instantaneous connection between strangers. It travels at the speed of light from the lonesome seat in the back of an auditorium to center stage and back again. It’s visceral both in its originator and in its receiver. It’s that moment when one’s most precious possession is spilled out, completely exposed, vulnerable. And the one who witnesses it not only affirms and accepts it, but identifies with it. The spilling out of this valued treasure strikes the very core of the witness’s own most vulnerable and cherished possession, the one held closest to her heart. She is in that instant, experiencing both the beauty and abject humility of the one who is exposed. It is a priceless exchange and it is memorable for both.
I recently had the opportunity to experience this exchange with a precious group of women from a local church. I shared with them my personal journey of spiritual transformation. I shared the significant points in my life where circumstances had caused me to put up walls around my heart. I shared how God had shown me those walls and the lies that I had been believing about Him and about myself. How He, over time, removed each of those walls and replaced the lies with the truth, His Truth. The journey itself was a time of breaking spiritual strongholds in exchange for the healing, freeing presence of Jesus in and around my heart. To recount this journey was an opportunity for me to revel in God’s amazing love, not just for me but for each of them. It was an opportunity to break my alabaster jar before Him with all of them as my witnesses.
There are at least two occasions in the Bible where we read of alabaster jars being broken. The first occurs in the book of Luke. Early in Jesus’ ministry he attends a dinner at the home of a Pharisee. While He is there a sinful woman enters and makes her way to the feet of Jesus who is reclined at the table. She begins to wash His feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and anoint Him with the perfume in her alabaster jar. Jesus uses the precious actions of this dear woman to show the skeptical Pharisee (and his guests) the life-changing power His forgiveness brings and the love that comes as a response. Precisely because this woman was forgiven for so much, her love for Jesus could hardly be contained.
The second story is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John,* where, just days before His crucifixion, Jesus is anointed in Bethany. On this occasion, all three authors comment on the cost of the ointment being poured out onto Jesus. One of them (Judas, according to John’s account) even remarks about the waste of pouring out such an expensive perfume when the money could have been spent on the poor. But again Jesus uses this act as an opportunity to teach those who are witnessing it. He tells them to leave the woman alone. He recognizes her act as an act of love, honor and worship. He tells them that she is preparing Him for His burial. He even says about her, “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9b)
In both cases, these women brought to Jesus what was presumably their most treasured possession, these alabaster vessels of aromatic ointment. Commentators note that these jars were often heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation. Their cost was at least a year’s wages but they were priceless to those who owned them. In order to keep the ointment from evaporating the vessels were sealed. This meant that to access the ointment the seal and perhaps even the vessel itself had to be broken. And once it was broken, there was no reserving any for the future. It was all poured out for that significant event.
Do you sense the gravity of their actions? Do you feel the sting of tears for the woman at the house of the Pharisee? Do you understand the gratitude of the woman of Bethany? John identifies her as Lazarus’ sister, Mary. The one who always loved to sit at Jesus’ feet now had even more to thank him for after her dead brother had been resurrected. Both of these women knew they were in the very presence of the Savior of the world. They recognized Him as the Son of God and their personal encounter with Him not only changed the trajectory of their present circumstances, but their life for all eternity. He was worth everything to them! If they had a million jars of alabaster they would break every one of them for Him!
Isn’t that our most precious and treasured possession? – our own personal encounters with Jesus, our Savior and our Lord. What the people at those 1st Century dinner parties were witnessing was the testimonies of those women. They may not have heard them share their life stories but what they saw them do told its own story. These women were willing to risk whatever reputation they had to put it all out there, to share of themselves vulnerably, publicly. They were not only pouring out their most expensive ointment. They were pouring out themselves, their heart and souls. They were publicly acknowledging the profundity and magnitude of their individual encounters with Jesus. And, I would imagine, the only response they truly cared about was the response from Jesus. It didn’t matter how many people were in the room or what they thought of them, He was who they were there to honor. In both cases, His response was the same. Jesus not only accepted their beautiful, sacrificial gift, He used their actions, their willingness to publicly show their love for Him as an opportunity for others to know that same life-changing love, grace, mercy, and redemption for themselves.
Being with the women who attended that retreat reminded me of how precious the sharing of our personal encounters with Jesus are. Not only did I get to break open my alabaster jar, but I got to witness others do the same. From some it was just a simple whisper in my ear as they told me what they had been through and how God had healed them. From others, they poured out their heart and their stories in a thoughtful written note to me. From others, they openly shared with me and others at their table their encounters of love, forgiveness, and brokenness-made-whole by Jesus. Lots of alabaster jars were broken that weekend, with all the fragrance of praise, love, adoration, and worship going to God. There is nothing quite like that connection between believers. It is a beautiful exchange.
When was the last time you broke your alabaster jar? Have you poured out your story as an act of worship to the God who has changed your life forever? He is honored when we do and He uses those opportunities to show others the same love, grace, mercy and redemption He’s shown to us. It can be risky. There may be critics in the room just as there were at those 1st Century dinner parties. But Jesus’ response to our actions must be our only focus. Ask God to give you the opportunity and the courage to break your alabaster jar in an act of worship to Him and watch what He does in those who witness it. Isn’t He worth it?
Father, I thank you for the precious opportunities you have given me to share the contents of my alabaster jar with others. To break it open as an act of worship to you is a precious experience. You are my most treasured possession. I pray that you will give all those who know you the courage to share the encounters they have had with you to others. Even though our stories are as unique and individual as the way in which you have created each of us, the connection we have because of you is priceless and it is memorable. May you be honored and glorified each time we break our jars and may you be our only focus. May your Spirit touch the lives of those who witness it so that they too may personally know your love as we do. I your Son’s name we pray, amen.
(*Some commentators propose that the anointing in John is perhaps a third occasion where Jesus is anointed however there are many similarities between this and Matthew and Mark’s accounts.)
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Thank you for sharing your precious oils with us Chris!